DAVAO CITY: Tension erupted at the evacuation center for indigenous peoples when police forced their way in and attempted to dismantle temporary shelters and threatened to send them home.
At least 15 people were hurt when the evacuees held their ground against police who, armed with batons and truncheons, ripped the gates of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) Haran Center where the evacuees where temporarily sheltered.
The raid happened while classes were going on at a makeshift classroom for around 100 children.
Datu Kailo Buntulan, an Ata-Manobo elder, said forcing them to go home is problematic because it will only expose them to danger from the soldiers and the para-military group called Alamara.
The raid was ordered by North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco, chair of the House Committee on Indigenous People.
The planned eviction was averted with the intervention of Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte who asserted that the IPs must be given the freedom to choose for themselves.
“Those who want to go home can go home,” he said. “But those who insist on staying here, can very well stay.”
Earlier, a tearful Catamco said the IPs must be sent home because their situation was depressing at the evacuation center.
This was countered by Buntulan.
“Why can’t she get it? We cannot go home because of the presence of the military and Alamar,” he said. “Going home is like facing our own death.”
Sister Noime Degala of the Sisters Association of Mindanao lambasted what she called “brutal eviction.”
“Do you need truncheons and batons and a bunch of riot police to face an already abused sector?” Degala said. “What we have witnessed was an excessive display of power against a powerless sector.”
Beverly Sakongan Longid, Katribu national chairperson, said Catamco should be removed from her committee.
“The IPs have been violated much already,” she said. “She should be held liable for what yet again violation of the rights of the IPs, the fear, the trauma experienced by the children. If something bad happens to them, she should be made answerable.”
Catamco, meanwhile, said she did not feel defeated.
“There is always next time,” she said.